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Glen Dow Academy: 45 years of real style

Under the watchful eye of Glen Dow Academy owner Martin Dow, left, Cosmetology student model Jessica Truong has her hair styled by fellow students, from left, Britni Whitney, Cecilia Quinlan and Janelle King. (Colin Mulvany)
Under the watchful eye of Glen Dow Academy owner Martin Dow, left, Cosmetology student model Jessica Truong has her hair styled by fellow students, from left, Britni Whitney, Cecilia Quinlan and Janelle King. (Colin Mulvany)

The lobby of Glen Dow Academy swarmed with activity on a recent weekday morning. Customers checked in for their appointments while students wearing black aprons or smocks, gathered to scan the day’s schedule.

“We see 75 to 100 clients a day and 100 to 125 clients on Saturdays,” said school owner/director Martin Dow. “And over 100 students are currently enrolled.”

Since 1969, the academy has churned out nearly 10,000 graduates. If you live in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area, chances are high that your stylist studied cosmetology at Glen Dow.

The campus buildings on Riverside Avenue are on the national and state historic registers. Kirtland Cutter designed the larger building, and the adjacent white building was voted by the architects of Spokane to be the most liked building in downtown Spokane in 1996.

All three floors of the building buzzed with activity. Students sat in classrooms, cut client’s hair, and practiced manicures on each other. They learn everything from general cosmetology and esthetics to retail product knowledge, people skills and business management.

As the school celebrates its 45th anniversary, Dow reflected on the history and the future of the business he bought from his father, Glen Dow.

When his father purchased the school in 1969, he already owned two successful salons. He developed and wrote his own lesson plans and insisted his students adhere to certain codes of appearance.

“My first job was here – as a janitor,” Martin Dow said.

But he had no intention of going into the family business. Instead, he worked construction. But one cold day while working on a job site, Dow had an epiphany.

“I decided I needed a career,” he said. So he enrolled at the school.

Despite growing up in the business, Dow said it didn’t come easily or naturally to him. “I had to work very hard to learn the skills.”

He spent several years “behind the chair” and instructing, and also traveled extensively as a platform artist for Zotos International Inc., a leading perm manufacturer.

Dow has been the school’s director since 1993. When his dad retired in 2007, he bought the business. As he walked through the school, he stopped to greet a customer.

Paul Cappellano works downtown and said he’s been coming to the academy for seven years. While student Abby Farr wielded a pair of scissors over his head, Cappellano said, “They do a very good job here and the price is reasonable.”

Customer Jo Sepulveda agreed. “I was a customer at the South Hill salon and I’ve been coming here since 1995.” She smiled. “The girls pass me around.”

Student Carly Demers filed the nails on a mannequin’s hand to razor-sharp points. “They’re called stiletto nails,” she said.

When asked why she wanted to be a nail technician, she grinned and said, “I like talking and I like making people feel better.”

Large photos line the walls of most every room in the building. The photos are of models with their hair and makeup done by students. “We want everyone to have photo shoot experience,” Dow said.

The academy has been a longtime sponsor of the Miss Spokane pageant and several photos of former Miss Spokanes adorn the walls.

In addition, they host four fashion benefits a year to raise funds for area nonprofits. Dow said it’s their way of giving back to the community that has embraced them.

He’s seen a lot of changes in the industry over the years – and not only in hair styles. He said hair products have evolved. Everything from products used in hair coloring to finishing products like gel, mousse and hair spray have changed.

But the biggest boom in the industry is in esthetics. Nowadays many salons provide waxing services, facials and other spa treatments. Glen Dow Academy offers a 660-hour esthetics course. Topics covered include skin care, makeup, hair removal and spa body treatments.

Dow plans to introduce a 1,200-hour master esthetics course soon, that will offer instruction in deep peels and laser technology. He said medi-spas are the next big trend in the beauty business.

Staying current about upcoming trends while offering a tried-and-true curriculum has allowed Glen Dow Academy to thrive for 45 years.

“Enrollment has been up,” Dow said. “My dad always told me ‘If you put your mind to it, you can do it.’ ”